The widespread view of Africa as one huge problem point on the planet’s body characterized by pandemics, hunger, poverty and wars – the so-called “Afropessimism” – has now been replaced with an approach which was launched by global powers as they compete for economic and political presence on the continent. After a lull, Russia has joined the race as well.
According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “African states are steadily gaining political and economic weight, asserting themselves as major pillars of the global multi-polar system and enjoying ever more say in making decisions on the most critical issues of the regional and global agenda.” Significantly, Africa accounts for about one third of the votes in the UN.
After Russia made an impressive “comeback” in the Middle East, Moscow became attractive for states seeking alternatives to the old political and economic ties. The first African country to do that was the war-torn Central African Republic, and the next to follow was Sudan, a country facing a similar challenge. Then more countries did the same. At present, more than 30 African countries have reached agreements with Russia which envisage the development of geo-resources, the supply of produce of the military-industrial complex, and the training of army personnel and law enforcement forces. Among the most significant contractors are Algeria, Egypt, Angola, Uganda and Nigeria.
The consistent and rarely publicized efforts of the Russian diplomacy resulted in the first Russia-Africa summit, which was held in Sochi on October 23-24. The day earlier, the Russian-African Economic Forum opened in Sochi too. Of the 62 African legal entities officially recognized by the UN, the Russian forum was attended by heads of state of 43 countries while another 11 participated at minister and ambassador level. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi represented both Egypt and the African Union.
During the Sochi forum, Russia and African countries signed more than 500 agreements worth about 800 billion rubles. Considering the low solvency of African partners, the participants came to agreement to set up a $ 5 billion trade support fund. The success of the forum prompted the decision to hold it regularly, every two years.
China seems to be Russia’s top economic competitor on the Black Continent. Beijing offers African countries big but easy loans and builds social infrastructure facilities on a gratuitous basis. China attaches great importance to “soft power” by promoting cultural and scientific contacts in an attempt to form loyal national elites. Every year thousands of Africans are granted scholarships to study at Chinese universities. As a result, ten years ago, China snatched from the United States its leadership as Africa’s trade and economic partner thereby becoming one of the major investors and donors to African countries.
Since the beginning of the century, the China-Africa Cooperation Forum has been held regularly, with nearly four dozen African countries joining the One Belt One Road mega-project.
And finally, (as investments have to be protected) in 2017, a Chinese military base appeared in Djibouti, the first beyond the bounds of the PRC.
Simultaneously, Africa’s growing dependence on Chinese financing may become one of Russia’s competitive advantages as the continent starts to look for alternative partners.
The United States has unintentionally been contributing to this, by criticizing the policies of Moscow and Beijing in Africa. Washington has become seriously concerned with measures to repulse the “expansion” of China and Russia. In December 2018, the Trump administration presented a new strategy for Africa, or in fact, a plan to counteract the activity of Russia and China on the continent. There have been numerous official statements to this effect. “These countries are expanding their financial and political influence to Africa by applying “aggressive” practices and acting for their own benefit, which poses a threat to US national security,” – the then adviser to the American president, John Bolton, said, as he unveiled the program. It turns out that the United States is acting in Africa to the detriment of its own interests?
China bore the brunt of criticism. Bolton, as usual, lashed at Beijing for many things, but above all, for using loans to enslave the Black Continent. Last summer, during the US-Africa business summit in Maputo, the United States launched the Prosperous Africa Economic Program. The Program’s ultimate goal is the same – to contain the growing influence of Russia and China by expanding trade with countries of the continent, by promoting American technology and by boosting assistance in the anti-terrorism campaign. According to Bolton, the new approaches will allow African countries “to remain independent in reality, not in theory”. But for the rhetoric, there is little new in the American approach.
Europe boasts traditionally strong positions on the African continent. After they gained independence, the authorities in many former French colonies’ capitals installed monuments to Charles de Gaulle. African countries are interested in cooperating with the European Union in three interrelated areas: peacekeeping, which is so critical for the Black Continent, receiving economic and humanitarian aid, and assistance in the anti-epidemic effort.
In turn, the EU is more set on measures to thwart illegal migration from the African continent, which is its top priority for now. Simultaneously, the EU is trying to be realistic about the economic and political potential of African partners. As far back as in April 2000, Cairo hosted the first EU-Africa summit, attended by heads of state and government. Seven years later, the Strategic Partnership Agreement for Trade and Democracy was signed in Lisbon, designed to boost economic and political ties and calling for “genuine cooperation” and partner equality.
Nevertheless, the number of Europeans present on the continent has been dwindling. Even the French who until recently affected the political situation in Francophone Africa have become fewer in number. According to the authoritative French weekly Le Point, Paris “is losing ground here,” and should thus “come to its senses”, as its influence and economic weight on the continent are steadily declining.
Incidentally, Ankara embarked on cooperation with the continent years ago. The first summit on Turkey’s cooperation with African countries (mainly Muslim) was held in 2008. This year the third summit took place. Since 2010, the government has been following the so-called “African Strategy.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry has proudly reported on its website that the two parties have been demonstrating mutual interest in bilateral ties, which becomes clear from the following figures: while in 2009 there were only 12 Turkish representative missions on the Black Continent, today their number totals 39. And African countries have increased the number of their diplomatic missions in Ankara threefold – from 10 to 33 – over the same period.
Speaking of the prospects for cooperation between Russia and Africa, we can say first of all that Russia is one of the top ten exporters of food products to African markets. Secondly, Moscow is one of the major suppliers of military produce to the continent – the value of military contracts in 2019 is expected to exceed $ 4 billion. Thirdly, local consumers are quite satisfied with the price-quality ratio of many Russian-made products. And the contractors can pay for these goods: Africa accounts for up to one third of the developed mineral reserves, and given that surveys were not always carried out at the appropriate level and did not cover all resources-rich areas, there are more. So, the fourth area of Russia-Africa cooperation is geological prospecting work.
Addressing the Sochi forum, President Putin made it clear to African guests that Russia had no intention to repeat the mistakes of the USSR, which was determined to multiply the number of political pseudo-allies at the expense of economic feasibility. The United States and the EU have also reiterated the mutually beneficial nature of trade and economic relations. Moreover, all actors regularly write off Africa’s debts, and Moscow is no exception.
And finally, it is necessary to point out that Western countries invariably make this cooperation conditional on the “right”, from their point of view, foreign and domestic policies of their contractors. Russia has a clear edge here as it does not seek to force its opinion on anyone, be it Europe or the African continent.
From our partner International Affairs
Sashaying to success: Fashionomics Africa helps designers embrace the digital age
From a new digital marketplace to connect Africa’s creatives with global markets, to masterclasses to help designers share and learn, and webinars to inform and inspire: the African Development Bank’s flagship Fashionomics Africa(link is external) initiative has taken great strides this year.
The website and mobile app were unveiled at the Global Gender Summit in Kigali in November, to help Africa’s fashion designers, textile and accessories entrepreneurs grow their businesses, with a focus on women and young people.
“It is all really for connecting business to business, businesses to consumers and ensuring we are putting into place all we need to really transform the clothing and fashion industries in Africa,” Dr. Jennifer Blanke, the Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, said at the launch.
With secure e-commerce and online payment systems, the aim is to connect suppliers, buyers, manufacturers and distributors to consumers and investors – to increase access and grow markets within Africa and across the globe.
“The Fashionomics Africa digital marketplace will be a game-changer for Africa’s fashion entrepreneurs, to be able to reach regional and international markets and increase their revenues,” said Mahlet Teklemariam, Founder of Hub of Africa, an Ethiopia-based fashion platform that promotes African brands.
In February, Fashionomics Africa hosted a masterclass in Nairobi on how to establish successful fashion brands. Organized by the Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Department, more than a dozen fashion industry mentors shared their experiences and expertise with the aspiring entrepreneurs, the vast majority of them women.
“The Fashionomics Africa masterclass has all the right ingredients to add flavour to your fashion business,” said Linda Murithi, founder of Love Fashion Kenya, one of the designers who attended the Nairobi event.
The masterclass – which followed similar workshops held in Addis Ababa, Abidjan, Johannesburg, Kigali and Lagos – discussed business acumen, access to finance, branding, marketing and networking and reflected on the challenges and opportunities African fashion entrepreneurs encounter.
“Some designers feel alone. Fashionomics Africa has created a platform where people share the same language,” said Brendan McCarthy of the Parsons School of Design, and one of the mentors at the masterclass. “They can connect, share experience and create a collaborative community.”
More recently, in a rapid response to the new social and economic environment created by the COVID-19 outbreak, Fashionomics Africa has launched a series of webinars to address the opportunities and threats posed by the pandemic to Africa’s fashion industry.
At the opening webinar in early June, fashion entrepreneurs, investors, industry experts and business insiders, exchanged ideas on the need for a digitally-enabled African fashion industry during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“African fashion is rising right now. African designers need to develop their unique business modeland have to be innovative. To do so, digital is key,” Sarah Diouf, founder of made-in-Africa online brand Tongoro, said at the webinar. “It’s a tool that we can truly leverage in our advantage.”
Be it the feel of the fabric, the fit of the design or the vibrancy of the pattern: the fashion business has traditionally thrived on personal attention and face-to-face contact. But the need to reimagine the role of technology as a lever for growth in the industry has been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID crisis.
The containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus mean fashion entrepreneurs, like those in other industries, must look to online trading tools and or mobile money platforms to build resilience and prepare for the future. In this, the role of Fashionomics Africa is more vital than ever.
Somalia: An American Media Pundit, Exaggerates and Weaponizes International Aid
Recently, after the Somali parliament removed prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, in an overwhelmingly no-confidence vote, it didn’t only raise my eye borrows but it made me startled to read an opinion article on the matter in the Washington Examiner by Michael Rubin whose writings I usually find quite utopian and unbalanced. The piece titled, The State Department spent $1.5 billion on Somali democracy and built a dictatorship, was full of chunks of inconsistencies, bending the truth, and calumny attacks on the sovereignty of my home country, Somalia, in the disguise of having the right to express an opinion.
Before we delve into the essence of my observations of Mr. Rubin’s article, let me briefly explain why prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, was ousted by the parliament. However, to safe the reader a boring monologue on why and how the prime minister was sacked, I have to go to the point with brevity; the prime minister lost his job after indirectly sabotaging a one-man, one-vote election legislation he was a part of creating it, so that the Somali citizens can directly elect their leaders, a right they lost decades ago, whose opposite is to go back to electing parliament through clan based picks by traditional elders, then the parliament elects the speaker and the president, then the president nominates a prime minister to be confirmed by the parliament, a process tainted with corruption and vote buying, coupled with dangerous foreign interests; the prime minister preferred that old process, but to say the least, the prime minister was a competent figure who did a great job for the public while he was in office, and in his resignation speech, although he did not like how the no-confidence vote was conducted, he left with dignity and a unifying message.
The trick to hoodwink readers Mr. Rubin used in the title of his article was to combine all aid received by Somalia from all sources, even from the United Nations, as a single one of 1.5 billion given by the US State Department alone, which is not the case, and he claimed it as an example for being implicitly one-time payment. Then, he wrote:
“Consider first the sheer scale of the United States’s investment in Somalia: The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars on Somalia in recent decades.” But in the title of his article, he tied together the 1.5 billion and what he called building a dictatorship in Somalia in which the reader cannot escape the inference that the US built in Somalia a president Farmaajo dictatorship with 1.5-billion-dollar aid money, a downright lie to discredit Somalia’s resolve not to cave in foreign interference in its affairs, as contrarily evidenced by the weak Somali governments prior to president Mohamed Abdullahi Farrago’s administration. On the other hand, what is so surprising if not disgusting is that Mr. Rubin wrote the following as he cites a biased website that Somali leaders embezzled, a website apparently run by Somalia’s self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland to disseminate anti-Somali news and propaganda; he wrote incoherently as he inserts links, making it an issue, for instance, the international debt relief Somalia deserved so much because of its transparence and good governance, which the international donors praised:
“Under Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, aid to Somalia more than doubled. Over the last year, not only did USAID contribute near $500 million, but Yamamoto successfully advocated debt forgiveness that forced American taxpayers to write off $1 billion in Somali debt, much of which was embezzled by some of the same figures with whom the U.S. now partners. Yamamoto wanted to give Somalia even more.”
Finally, I would say that Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, despite his government’s term coming to an end, will nominate a new prime minister, and the new prime minister will be confirmed by the parliament. Somalia will not go back to the corrupted, old system of election. Somalia will succeed and hold a one-man, one-vote election. The sovereignty of Somalia is stronger under president Farmaajo leadership, and as Somalis, we will not let our sovereignty to be compromised by foreign actors. And, Mr. Rubin, I resect your opinion no matter how distorted it can be, but I don’t think the United States government, or the international donors agree with you!
Developments in Russia’s Humanitarian Policy in Africa
Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian politician, and journalist has been appointed the head of Rossotrudnichestvo, an agency promoting Russia’s humanitarian policy, following a decree signed by Vladimir Putin. Primakov is the successor to Eleanora Mitrofanova, who led the department since December 2017. Future changes in humanitarian policy embodied by Rossotrudnichestvo are thought to create a more favorable regime for Russia in the world arena along with more solidarity.
In order for that to be the case, Russia’s humanitarian policy needs a fundamental review. In recent years, trends that may serve as an impetus for necessary future changes have emerged. The first innovation concerns the functioning of organizations promoting Russia’s international policy and the assessment of their performance. The second determines their regional focus.
As for the revision of the functional features of Russian institutions of humanitarian policy, the necessity to work with NGOs on the ground and use digital technologies seems crucial. Firstly, clarification of the country’s priorities in the field of humanitarian policy could turn useful. Drawing attention to modern power diffusion from state actors to non-state ones, Russian institutions may concern themselves with Russian humanitarian projects’ effectiveness and motivate Russian donors and actors to be more focused on practical work “on the ground.” A shift from only international level cooperation to cooperation on supranational and subnational levels could ensure Russia’s influence and, as a result, a more favorable treatment.
The further issue is effectiveness. With specific humanitarian projects, this means that institutions could improve the situation of the population, communities, and households — only such an effect can and should be a criterion for the effectiveness of the humanitarian policy. Along with official channels, the implementation of this mission requires a more active involvement stemming from the non-governmental sector, namely the media community, and Russian business companies conducting foreign economic activity. It is a search for common ground, universal themes, and areas of interaction in which public opinion abroad (non-governmental organizations, communities) in the future could become a decision-making center for the development of joint dialogue and mutual understanding. In conditions of high uncertainty, digital technologies could have a positive effect on more efficient work.
When it comes to reorienting the regional foreign policy of humanitarian diplomacy institutions, the African continent appears as a priority. The humanitarian policy includes the promotion of humanitarian values. Historically, Russia defends such humanitarian values as peace preservation and justice. Considering the current power transition among states (and it’s moving from West to East and stronger cooperation North-South), Russia could be perceived in international affairs as a guarantor of peace. Consequently, the second apparent humanitarian policy shift is developing more adequate approaches in several areas and regions. The most relevant policy directions for Russia are the countries of the former USSR, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, Africa, and South America. The last two are considered to be resource centers as well as business hubs that if successfully overcame (concerning Africa) problems such as mass hunger and the spread of diseases, could become a field of activity for Russian companies’ interest, and contribute to the development of humanitarian initiatives. These humanitarian initiatives should not be taken as a thing-in-itself, initiatives just for existing initiatives, but rather as a useful tool, providing new employments, further education, and better life opportunities.
The change in the humanitarian agenda is visible on the example of topics within the SPIEF. The SPIEF is an annual Russian business event in the economic field, which has been held since 1997. The Forum’s key mission is to be a practical tool for business, allowing to overcome the barriers that divide Russia and other countries, both geographical and informational. If we look at the previous discussions’ development in relation to the humanitarian agenda, the movement toward the shifts has already begun. Further analysis covers humanitarian issues discussed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017-2019. The Forum has been attended by senior officials of international organizations, representatives from around 140 countries.
Since 2017, the Forum has been showing the need for interaction with NGOs. The topics of discussion of the Forum 2017 covered corporate social responsibility programs, the implementation of humanitarian initiatives, and the public sector’s cooperation with NGOs. The two messages leading the meeting were: any investment project needs a humanitarian component. The costs borne by the state will primarily lead to an improvement in other’s people lives, their health and safety.
The SPIEF-2018 was more focused on “work on the ground initiatives,” as well as with their performance evaluation. In this regard, coordination at the international level alongside the public sector’s active participation in overcoming the obstacles of the agricultural sector of countries is necessary. Going beyond the scope of symbolic activities, corporations make a significant contribution to the implementation of programs aimed at improving the social situation, the quality of life, the provision of humanitarian and medical care services, as well as combating epidemics. Moreover, the state and business’s interaction reduces the risks of natural disasters, but the market underestimates the effectiveness of investments in security. In this regard, state bodies should provide new conditions for beneficial cooperation with the entrepreneurs.
The SPIEF-2019 brought to the surface the digitalization and the level of women’s participation in solving global problems. The topic diversified more into humanitarian cooperation of the state and business on healthcare, culture, education, and digitalization. For the first time, the African continent became more active as representatives from some African countries attended SPIEF. The parties expressed the necessity to develop joint educational programs in education globalization and the labor market. Participants concluded that the digital economy provides women with more opportunities for self-realization. However, to popularize a successful woman’s image and create comfortable working conditions for women, there is still a lot of work to do.
The African direction from 2019 is becoming predominant. Hence why the regional movement of the Russian humanitarian mission is primarily aimed at the South. It is also worth highlighting the Russia-Africa dialogue. Over the past 20 years, African countries have improved cooperation significantly. The problems identified during the discussion are as follows: underdeveloped infrastructure in Africa’s transport, energy, and finance; the African economic overdependency on natural resources; and insufficient level of business interests in Africa. The participants concluded that it is necessary to stimulate cooperation and raise business awareness of the African and Russian markets’ possibilities.
The development of relations between Russia and Africa is officially recognized as a priority. The problem of mutually beneficial Russian-African cooperation is highly multifaceted, far-reaching and essential to ensure Russia’s interests in the international arena. The expansion of Russian presence now results from an increase in the supply of industrial and food products, development of investment cooperation, expanding Russian participation in the development of the economics of the African continent.
Russian-African relations have enough opportunities to play a prominent role in efforts to promote Russia’s humanitarian policy. Russian humanitarian policy needs a fundamental revision at the functional and regional levels. At the operational level, this is expressed in closer cooperation with NGOs and digital technologies to work more effectively on the ground. Through interaction with the regions, the importance of Africa has increased. For Russia, this is a promising area for promoting humanitarian values such as peace preservation and justice.
In this regard, Rossotrudnichestvo is perhaps the primary tool for implementing Russian humanitarian policy. Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) was established in 2008 and today operates in 80 countries. As for Africa, the Russian centers of science and culture (RCSC) are open in Egypt, Zambia, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Morocco, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Ethiopia; Agency representative works at the Russian Embassy in South Africa.
Thus, changes in Russia’s humanitarian policy abroad are expected with the appointment of the new head of Rossotrudnichestvo. Humanitarian policy needs to be revised both functionally and in interaction with the regions. Russia has historically promoted such values as peace preservation and justice. Based on the tendencies and intentions of Mr.Primakov, there is a potential for cooperation with local NGOs. After analyzing the discussions on the humanitarian topics of the SPIEF for 2017-2019, two more trends are emerging. In addition to working closely with the community, there is a need to use digital technologies. This will allow Russia to work not from organization to organization, but from organization to individual. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed Russian education towards cyberspace, which will allow more to receive it. These are precisely life, health, safety, the level of women’s participation in solving global problems that are the goals of humanitarian policy, Russia can and knows how to work on them. In connection with the strengthening of interaction in the Russia-Africa direction, this region is clearly coming to the fore for Russian work. It is the region, like no other, that needs peace preservation and justice. So why shouldn’t Russia satisfy the external demand having the resources to do so?
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